Step Aside Barcelona, Man City: Bayern Munich Are the Team to Beat in Europe

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2012

GUANGZHOU, GUANGDONG - JULY 26:  Mario Mandzukic of Bayern Munich celebrates with team mates after scoring during a friendly match against VfL Wolfsburg as part of the Audi Football Summit 2012 on July 26, 2012 at the Guangdong Olympic Sports Center in Guangzhou, China.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

Six weeks into their 2012-13 campaign, Bayern Munich are looking the strongest of Europe's superpowers. Their DFB-Superpokal triumph over rivals Dortmund seems to have renewed the Bavarians' morale, and following nine consecutive wins to start the season, Jupp Heynckes' men are hungrier and stronger than they have been in recent memory.

The statistics tell a tale of utter dominance: Bayern have achieved a perfect balance between attack and defense, having hit the target 27 times while only conceding on four occasions.

In every Bundesliga game thus far they have earned multi-goal victories, and hovering at around 90%, their pass completion rate is staggering.

Never before have Bayern enjoyed such a strong open to a Bundesliga season, yet this flying start has come in the absence of their best striker and while utilizing only one proper full-back.

Bayern's success thus far is familiar, bearing close resemblance to their start to the 2011-12 season. A year ago, the Bavarians also looked to be Europe's strongest team over the first two months of the campaign, during which they outclassed Manchester City and went 1,147 minutes without conceding.

Their success would soon unravel, however, as individual form began to wane, injuries and fatigue took their toll, and substitutes were found utterly lacking.

As impressive as Bayern's 2-0 triumph over City was last September, the loss of their reserves by the same scoreline in their Group A finale was equally telling of a team that sorely needed more depth. Especially after Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered the first of two season-crippling injuries in November, the German giants never truly reached their previous peak, and ended the season without trophies.

If recent history is an indicator, Bayern are headed for certain failure this season as well. In the seasons following each of the last two World Cups, they failed to secure automatic qualification for the Champions League. After Euro 2008, the Bavarians finished runners-up to a Wolfsburg side that failed to break the 70-point barrier.

After those three forgettable seasons, however, Uli Hoeness and Co. have learned their lesson, and are prepared to welcome a physically and mentally exhausted squad following Euro 2012.

Thanks to the summer additions of Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Javi Martinez and Dante, Bayern not only have suitable replacements for injured stars but alternatives with the class to start if Heynckes is inclined to rest his usual first team. Only the back five have played all 540 minutes in the Bundesliga thus far: The next-most used players are Luiz Gustavo and Thomas Mueller, who have each averaged 75 minutes per game, completing 450 in total.

Saturday's 2-0 win against Bremen marked the hardest Bayern had to work for a result this season.

With the starters struggling to hit the target, Heynckes needed something more and introduced Mandzukic and Shaqiri before the hour mark. The pair injected a new sharpness in the lineup and combined to hit the target moments after Luiz Gustavo's sumptuous opener.

With last year's squad and the same injuries to Gomez and Arjen Robben, the substitutes would have been Nils Petersen and Danijel Pranjic—respectable players, but not game-changers. But now, Heynckes has more than just a strong lineup: he has a top-class squad.

Six weeks into the 2012-13 season, Bayern look to have all the hunger and class to win silverware in May for the first time in three years. The campaign is a long one, though, and as fans know all too well, anything can happen over the course of the season.

Last year, Bayern peaked too early. But with David Alaba and Mario Gomez yet to make an appearance, and with several key players still yet to reach their best form, this Bayern side can improve further. With one-and-a-half months gone, they’re decidedly the team to beat.